Software tool diagnoses car ills

Computer software has been developed in Hamilton that makes it easier for mechanics to find out what is wrong with a car.

Computer software has been developed in Hamilton that makes it easier for mechanics to find out what is wrong with a car. Waikato University student Ben Gray has customised the software developed by Automotive Electronics of Hamilton for its diagnostic scanner, which has been sold to 150 garages. The scanner links the vehicle's engine computer with a PC and can tell a mechanic in seconds if any electronic sensors are not performing correctly, says Automotive Electronics managing director Glenn Thorley. Thorley says New Zealand has so many different models of cars that mechanics don't have the time to learn about them all. As a result, he says, some want to quit the trade. "Many of them are over 40 and grew up in the age of 'plugs and points'. Now, they've got to show a lot of new and different skills and many of them are feeling lost and frustrated," he says.

Most vehicles built in the past 18 years have a sensor light that indicates if an electronic fault exists. The company's scanner can be attached to any car's sensor light by a patented universal connector, and a computer screen advises the mechanic what the problem is and where.

Gray wrote and developed the software under the Technology for Industry Fellowship scheme, operated by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology. "I added a printing feature to give customers a hard copy of the diagnosis, I included the saving of car specifications, and I developed a copy protection to save the program from being pirated," he says.

Gray is now on a second fellowship project with Automotive Electronics, where he will work full-time after completing his studies - despite being offered a job with a large UK electronics company.

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